Bob Neville’s 1928 Model A Ford Boat Tail Racer

Papakura, Pukekohe, Drury

by Greg Stokes

Time traveller…

Bob Neville’s 1928 Model A Ford Boat Tail Racer

By Greg Stokes

Nostalgia is a yearning for the past or an appreciation for all thing’s old. Bob Neville’s “Lucky 17” 1928 Model A Ford Boat Tail racer is all of that and so much more. For anyone with the slightest interest in all things automotive, Bob’s tribute to the motor racing period of the twenties and thirties is a direct step back in time.

This fantastic little racer started its life on the East Coast of the USA many years ago, Michigan to be precise where an original Model A Ford was stripped down to be built into what is considered one of the most well-proportioned “speedsters” or “racers”. Built as a dual purpose vehicle it was used in classic racing as well as on the street for parades and touring. Over time the car made its way to the UK before Bob found it and sent it to its new home in New Zealand.

Before we go on any further, we suggest you study the photos and digest the styling and proportions, not to mention the selection of really basic and simple components. Your Dad or grandfather probably built something similar to race at Pukekohe Raceway or perhaps up the hill at Chamberlain Road? Perhaps you heard your Dad or grandfather talk about similar cars of the past. You may even have or know of someone who has all the makings of a car similar to “Lucky 17” which you can build to relive the past just as Bob Neville and his wife Julie do.

While they cannot take the credit for the initial build, GMS Hot Rods have recently been doing extensive work to preserve, maintain and enhance the character of this car. “Lucky 17” draws inspiration from early dirt oval racing, early Indy cars and other similar forms of early motoring where “specials” were built with what was laying around to go racing. First thing up for GMS Hot Rods was to give the suspension a tune up and correct the geometry while improving the driveability and handling characteristics.

A new set of 21 inch Firestone tyres were fitted up and the car was totally different to drive considering all the old style twenties and thirties components used throughout. Bob & Julie set off for the Art Deco weekend in Napier back in February where the neat little car was truly well received. Bob and Julie are members of the North Island Model A Ford club, Taupo Vintage Car Club and also the Taupo Rod & Custom Club. Yes you read that right a vintage club and a hot rod club but that’s the point of this car – it crosses boundaries and bridges the gap between the two sectors of automotive fun.

Next up was the annual Repco Beach Hop in Whangamata and “Lucky 17” went back to GMS Hot Rods for an all new dashboard layout. The idea was to draw from influences such as Auburn and Cord from the twenties and thirties but give things a real Model A vibe. The dashboard itself kicks back under the cowling and slopes back toward the driver. The chromed Model A style dash housing six gauges by Classic Instruments. The result is classic, timeless and most of all unique. The car was also completely rewired before the Beach Hop. This time the crowd was different to the previous Art Deco but again, “Lucky 17” drew a crowd all week from Waihi to Whitianga and Whangamata.

Shortly after, “Lucky 17” returned to GMS Hot Rods to undergo more work. The 1932 Ford four cylinder engine needed a freshen up. Drury Engine Reconditioners were enlisted to rebuild the vintage engine using motor parts ex the USA from Veteran & Vintage Cars. While everything which was visible outside the engine was either polished (Shine Metal Polishers) if it was aluminium or chrome plated (Bumper Replacements) if it was steel. Alpine Panelbeaters were called upon to detail and paint the engine compartment and then the whole thing was reassembled at GMS Hot Rods in time to be displayed at the CRC Speedshow in Greenlane, Auckland.

The Teng Tools Grand National Rod & Custom Show is a show within the CRC Speedshow and to say the car was a bit of a hit was an understatement. In the roadster class “Lucky 17” was awarded second place among some tough competition. Interestingly, the car was never built to win shows but it’s incredible to be recognised in this way. With summer just around the corner, Bob & Julie are looking forward to some open air motoring in this neat little time machine.